By Tyler Cavalli, Tri-City Storm Communications
Chris Wilkie is one of four homegrown Nebraska boys in the United States Hockey League. The Omaha native is a popular player for the Tri-City Storm, leading his team with 15 goals and 31 points in his first season in Kearney.
Scouts have followed Wilkie through his junior hockey career, and have ranked him 111th out of all North American skaters eligible for the upcoming NHL Draft.
Wilkie’s road to Kearney has had its challenges, as the forward went from playing for his father with the Omaha Lancers Under-16 AAA team to the U.S. National Under-17 team. While with Team USA during the 2012-13 season, Wilkie netted 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points in 56 games.
Although Wilkie decided to part ways with USA’s Development Program after one year, he elected to stay in the USHL. Tri-City selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the Phase II Draft last summer, making him the first Nebraska-raised player to play for the organization.
The Wilkies are a hockey family. Chris’ dad David had an eight-year professional career that included time in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New York Rangers.
“I was always in locker rooms and around pro athletes,” said Wilkie. “I fell in love with the game and was fascinated with the players, sticks, and equipment. Seeing my dad play made me want to pursue a career in hockey.”
While with the USNTDP in Ann Arbor, Wilkie accepted a scholarship to play collegiately for the University of North Dakota. Now he’s preparing for college life while working on his game, trying to get better each day.
Measuring at 5’11, Wilkie had his inconsistencies early on this year, but has turned his season around while going through a coaching change and getting used to new teammates.
In mid-November, Tri-City decided to part ways with then head coach Josh Hauge, in favor of Jim Hulton, who has previous experience at both the junior and professional levels of hockey.
“Since coach Hulton has taken over he’s held me accountable defensively,” Wilkie said. “If I don’t play the right way then I won’t get any ice time. My linemates and I have been really clicking lately, and I think it’s only getting better.”
Hulton said that when he’s at his best, Wilkie can make things happen on the offensive end.
“He’s a very talented young man,” Hulton said of Wilkie. “When he stays within himself and the game plan and plays a team game, he’s a highly effective player.”
Wilkie found his rhythm at the start of 2014, after missing two games with an injury. Right away, Wilkie went on a tear, scoring a point in nine straight games from January 8-31.
The 17-year-old enjoys relaxing with best friend and fellow teammate, Tory Dello. The duo lives with the same billet family while attending Kearney High School together.
Wilkie also admits the two enjoy watching some of the latest chick flicks.
“There are a couple good chick flicks that we enjoy,” laughed Wilkie. “The most recent one we watched was ‘The Lucky One’; that’s my favorite right now.”
This summer Wilkie hopes to hear his name called in the NHL Draft, which takes place in Philadelphia June 27-28. The future member of the University of North Dakota is keeping his mind right and is focused on the remaining games of the season for Tri-City.
“I would be okay with any team drafting me, but it would be cool if it were the Canadiens, because that was the team my dad played for,” Wilkie said.
Hulton is excited for the prospect’s future as well.
“I think he’s got a great future,” Hulton said. “One thing you can’t teach someone is pure talent. He’s a good kid who likes to play with his teammates, has a good attitude, and is nice to have in the locker room. I think when his worth ethic catches up and matches his talent, he’s going to be a very effective player in the higher levels.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 12th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2013-14. A record 32 players were chosen in the 2013 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season have committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.
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